Part I of a series
by Nancy Christofferson
SPANISH PEAKS COUNTRY — There is a legend about the Ute people obtaining their first horses. It seems that around the year 1600, give or take, some Utes were in the Spanish Peaks country when they saw a very singular sight. It was a man mounted on a big dog, driving other big dogs in front of him. They were, of course, curious about such a thing, and approached the stranger to learn more about him and these useful beasts. The man gave them some of the odd creatures, and they quickly learned these were not large dogs but an entirely different animal, one that became so important to them it changed their entire way of life.
There is another legend about the Utes and their first horses. This one was told by the early Spanish in the region. Their story is that an expedition entered southern Colorado in the same time frame, but these mounted men were attacked by the natives, who set fire to the prairie grass and thereby stampeded the horses. These they collected and learned to ride the way the Spanish did, and thus did the Ute get their first horses.
There are myriad legends of the Spanish Peaks, and many of them are as contradictory as the above.
Many of the legends familiar to us today were penned by Louis B. Sporleder, Sr.. A voracious writer, Sporleder arrived in the village of Plaza de los Leones in 1873, the same year the plaza was incorporated as the Town of Walsenburg. He spent the rest of his long life chronicling the early history of the area as he learned it from the old timers, and, well, he improved it as he went along.
From Sporleder we have the famous legend of Wahatoya meaning Breasts of the World, and from there, many extrapolated that, since the Ute were the predominant people in the Spanish Peaks area at the times of Anglo settlement, Wahatoya was a Ute word. Wahatoya is neither Ute nor descriptive of a woman’s breasts. It is a Comanche word found in a dictionary of that language published in 1990. From this it is seen that Wahatoya is Waha-toya, two words meaning Double and Mountain. Sporleder helpfully subtitles one of his works with the information that Huajatolla is pronounced Wa-ha-to-ya which is the Indian name “of this great Twin Mountain and means “two breasts”. Well, one out of two is correct.
Wahatoya is just one of many names used for the peaks. Early American explorers such as Zebulon Pike called the entire range of southern Colorado the Mexican Mountains, for when he first saw them in 1806, all this land belonged to Spain as a part of Mexico. They have also been known at various times Las Cumbres Españolas, Dos Hermanos, or Two Brothers, the Twin Peaks, Dream Mountain, Las Tetas, and who knows what else. At least one local resident felt that, since the duo is so obviously feminine, they would be better termed Dos Hermanas. One misguided soul called the Peaks the Breast of the World. Yup, just the one breast. Before they became popularly known as the East Peak and the West Peak, they were referred to as the South one and the North one of the two Spanish Peaks.
Huajatolla, or even Huerfano for that matter, is usually mutilated by both English and Spanish speakers and only we in the neighborhood seem to say the word as we do. And we’re stickin’ with it.
Sporleder also gave us the legend of El Gran-do-te. According to men he spoke with personally in the late 1800s, Gran-do-te brought his people from the far south of Mexico in the earlier part of the 19th century and they lived peacefully and happily in the valleys and foothills for many years. Then Lola, the talking black panther, killed Gran-do-te’s wife and things started going downhill. Greedy Spaniards came and enslaved the native people, forcing them to show them where gold could be found and then mining it. Eventually the Spanish entombed the Indians in a mine by causing an avalanche. In another version, the Spanish too were entombed.
The existence of gold, of Indians from southern Mexico, and the Spanish in the Spanish Peaks area are all documented facts. Talking panthers not so much.
In the late 1930s a government employee in Huerfano County declared that he had proof there was Aztec treasure buried in the northern part of the county. He insisted he had read some Aztec symbols indicating the treasure could be found at the bottom of Mustang Lake, and he even hired divers to explore the depths. Due to murky conditions, nothing was proved one way or the other. But there are those who maintain that many Aztec temples are decorated with gold from the Spanish Peaks.
Some prospectors of the 1880s found pictographs on a large rock on the West Spanish Peak. These they determined to be written in Chinese. Some of the more romantically inclined say some of the hieroglyphics found on boulders might be ancient Irish symbols, called ogham, which prove Europeans had traveled through North American many centuries before Columbus supposedly discovered it. Through the years, Native American pictographs and petroglyphs have been found all over the prairies in Spanish Peaks country. While probably not Aztec or Irish or Chinese, they still remain undecipherable and, therefore, mysterious.
There’s no doubt the peaks have drawn attention for hundreds of years. How could they not? They’re pretty obvious. So it is not impossible travelers from prehistory through last week would carve messages to mark their passages. Because the writings are mysterious to us, they are considered legendary.
Sporleder chronicled many legends and legendary sites. He named them each in terms his very learned mind and vocabulary considered appropriate – the Sacred Grove, for instance, where “aborigines” practiced their rites “as interesting as the Eleusinian Mysteries of the ancient Greeks”. In other words, Mr. Sporleder is telling us the beautiful place may have been the scene of early day holy ceremonies. Truthfully, Sporleder can be as mysterious as any ogham. Classical references aside, Sporleder had his “Valley of Evil Spirits”, “Valley of the Rising Sun”, “Gorge of the Weird Sounds”, “Lake of Singing Spirits”. He found and identified altars, sacrificial and otherwise, old “glory holes” he attributed to the Spanish and Native Americans, odd rock formations and lofty stone monuments. He was a one-man, walking chamber of commerce, recording history, spinning yarns and quoting statistics that all pointed the traveler to the fertility of the land, the annual rainfall, the temperate climate and mineral riches in the hope they, too, would settle in the Spanish Peaks country.